Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Chicago Bears in Review

 
Nuggets from the Bears 2013 Season
  • The Bears were 5th in the NFL in Passing YPG, averaging 267.6 ypg (yards per game)
  • 8th in Offensive YPG, averaging 381.8 ypg
  • 16th in Rushing YPG, averaging 114.2 ypg
  • 30th in Defensive YPG, giving up an average of 394.6 ypg
  • 15th in Passing YPG Dead last in Rushing YPG, giving up a league high average of 161.4 rush ypg
Notable Players

QB

The Bears had two QBs that completed better than 50% of their passes and eclipsed 1,800 yards passing and 10 passing TDs. Both Cutler and McCown each had a passer rating of 89.0% or better. McCown and Cutler were sacked a combined total of 30 times all season. Now, Bears fans will play the wait and see game, as Cutler and McCown are both fee agents.

RB
Matt Forte amassed 1,339 yards rushing on just 289 carries, for a remarkable 4.6 yards per rush attempt. In my opinion, Forte, not Cutler, is the fulcrum of this offense. Forte's versatility makes him a threat in the backfield, catching passes, and in blitz pick-up.

WR

Alshon Jeffrey emerged as a potential perennial Pro Bowler, pairing up with All Pro receiver Brandon Marshall. Each amassed in excess of 80 catches, 1,200 yards receiving, and at least 7 TDs. Add the 74 receptions from RB Matt Forte, and 65 catches from TE Martellus Bennett, and the Bears offense emerged as a potent air attack in the pass friendly NFL.

K

Robbie Gould put together another outstanding season, making good on 26 of 29 field goal attempts. Robbie was as good a gold from 29 yards and in, but showed a few blemishes from distance, missing exactly one kick from 30-39 yards, 40-49 yards, and 50+ yards. Gould's 2013 season will be unfairly boiled down to the field goal that he missed on 2nd down in overtime, a game that the homesteading Minnesota Vikings eventually won. Their coach, Leslie Frazier, eventually got fired anyway.

Defense

Bears linebacker James Anderson led the 2013 Bears in tackles, and was tied for 2nd on the team with 4.0 sacks. Of all the Bears defensive linemen, only Julius peppers had more than 4 sacks (7.5). Despite missing the majority of the season with a torn triceps muscle, Charles Tillman still managed to lead the Bears in forced fumbles (3). Fellow cornerback Tim Jennings led the Bears in interceptions (4) and interceptions returned for TD (2).

As a defensive unit, the Bears intercepted the ball from their opponents more often (19 to 13), for more yards (428 to 225), and for more points (5 TDs to 3). However, the Bears offense allowed just as many sacks as their opponents (31 to 30) and fumbled the ball more often (19 to 17).

Looking Towards 2014

After the 1st season of the Mark Trestman era ended with a record of 8-8, many members of Bears Nation were understandably disappointed. Former head coach Lovie Smith was relieved of his duties after a 10-6 season. The bar has definitely been raised in the city of big shoulders. However, most rational, objective Bears fans understand that, with a new head coach, coaching staff and players, the next few years will be rebuilding years in a sense.

The offensive side of the ball gave all Bears fans a glimpse into the future, but there is still more work to do before our heroes at Halas Hall can once again hoist Lombardi's trophy:

Offense

Top 3 Needs

1. Get Forte More Touches
2. Give Jay More of the Playbook
3. Develop young quarterback, linemen, and receivers

At this stage in the game, the offense looks to be light years ahead of the defense. For the seasoned Bears fan, this is a complete 180 degree turn from the days when the Monsters of the Midway were the main event, and the offense was simply a necessary evil. Moving forward, the Bears should continue to build depth on their offensive line. This could be via a late round draft choice or two or, more than likely, inexpensive free agent options.

The same could be said of the Bears receiving corps as well. Jeffrey and Marshall are bonafided All Pro receivers. With the Bennett brothers, Martellus and Earl, picking up the scraps, there isn't much room for a young receiver to crack that starting lineup. However, the immense depth that the Bears have at receiver shouldn't preclude them from developing a rich pool of developmental receivers. Rookie WR Marquess Wilson is already ahead of curve, he of 2 receptions during the 2013 campaign. The Bears also have a young receiver on their practice squad in Anderson, who has the same height, weight, speed abilities as Marshall and Jeffrey!

The Bears should also work towards having a little more balance on offense. Matt Forte is considered to be one of the most versatile backs in the NFL. The Bears should look to diversify their offense around Forte, giving Matt more rushing attempts as well as touches out of the backfield on swing passes, screen passes, and the like. Last, but certainly not least, the Bears should prioritize the signing of Jay Cutler to a long term contract. QBs with his combination of height, arm strength, and moxy don't grow on trees (or in mines for that matter). You have a better chance of winning the lottery than of finding an impact performer in the draft or free agency. When familiarity sets in, it's easy to over criticize but, if we allow Jay to get away, it may be another generation before we see a talent of his caliber touch down in the Windy City for quite sometime.

Locking up Jay will also allow the organization to draft (or sign in free agency) and develop a young quarterback that has the skills (mental and physical) that Trestman values in the QB position. This young QB can sit behind Cutler (and, hopefully McCown) and learn what and what not to do (like throw a pass into triple coverage) and what and what not to say. As we've seen with the Washington Redskins, even if your young QB isn't the main guy, he may be good enough to bring back future draft picks if another team likes him and needs him more than you do.

Defense

Top 3 Needs

1. Run Stoppers
2. Pass Rushers
3. Defensive Backs (corners and safeties)

This is where things get fun. For a team that put out a historically deplorable effort on the defensive side of the ball, there is not one part of the defense that doesn't need to be touched. First things first, firing Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker is not the be all and end all to the Bears defensive woes. Coaches game plan and scheme, but players have to execute the designs. Last time I looked, Mel Tucker didn't play a single snap in 2013.

Secondly, the Bears should consider changing schemes - moving from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base. The 3-4 defense is the hot defensive trend in the NFL. If the Bears were to convert to a 3-4 base scheme, it would be more out of necessity than as a fashion trend. The Bears had an atrocious time getting pressure on the quarterback with just 4 down linemen. Converting to a 3-4 scheme would put players, such as Shea McClellin, in a more familiar "stand-up" rush position and move a talented linebacker like rookie John Bostic, who struggled at times at middle linebacker, to an outside linebacker position where he can focus his energies on running and tackling, not making sure the other members of the defensive unit know what's going on.

No matter what scheme the Bears choose to run (or not), the fact of the matter is that the defensive linemen need to get more pressure on the quarterback. The return of a healthy Henry Melton coupled with a steadily improving Corey Wootton should give the Bears two young foundation stones. However, the relative ineffectiveness of Shea McClellin along with the uncertain contractual situation of Julius Peppers will potentially leave 2 holes on the line to be filled. In the secondary, the Bears will be tasked with replacing as many as 5 players.

On the edges, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are both Pro Bowl caliber free agents that, due to their age, expected salaries, and injury history, will probably not be back with the Bears. The safety position, currently manned by Major Wright, Craig Steltz, and Chris Conte, has been the poster child for the glaring hole that composes the 2013 Bears defense. The combination of injuries along with inept play when healthy, makes an upgrade at both safety positions the priority of Phil Emery, Mark Trestman, and the rest of the brain trust in Lake Forest. Wright and Conte were certainly ball hawks. Both were in the top 5 in tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles, and returns for touchdowns on the Bears team. However, their mental errors, as evidenced by the last play in the infamous Bears vs. Packers game on December 29th, were a significant part of the reason that the Bears barely missed the playoffs in a weak NFC North.

Overall, the 2013 Bears were a team of veterans intermingled with youth that, given the team health and some key losses the off season before, overachieved during the 2013 campaign. Looking to the fall of 2014, I think that the Bears will return a team that will be formidable on offense and that will continue to make the transition from a defense that is veteran laden to one that is young, fast, and formidable. When the defense gets to 75% of where the offense is now, Bears fans will have more than lake effect snow to look forward to in Chicago in February's to come.